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16 August 2000

McVilla fights for her rights
by Karin Achtelstetter

McVilla, a 24-year old teacher, is visiting her friend Cassandra. They chat and laugh, exchanging gossip, "Can you imagine... Have you heard..." An ordinary afternoon in her friend's house. But a few hours later McVilla finds herself in hospital with serious internal injuries.

The afternoon of 19 March 2000 turns into a nightmare, for McVilla is raped in her friend's house. Her aggressors are Benjamin, a relative of Cassandra's, and his friend Daniel.

The McVilla case is making legal history in Liberia. It is the first time a woman rape victim has brought charges and started legal proceedings against her aggressors. McVilla speaks at press conferences about what was done to her in her friend's house. She names the rapists publicly by name. She displays medical reports.

McVilla is not alone in her fight for justice; she has the support of the Association of Female Lawyers of Liberia (AFELL). "When one woman suffers, all women suffer," says Elizabeth J. Boyenneh, the president of AFELL. "Violence against women continues to be widespread in Liberia, and up till now the perpetrators have got away with it. We live in a culture of silence and concealment. Because of the norms and values prevailing in our society the victims are ashamed to take action against their violators."

The McVilla case was still attracting public attention in July when a five-member international ecumenical delegation of women made a solidarity visit to Liberia. AFELL president Boyenneh believes the case is far from over. The Grand Jury, when called to decide whether the McVilla case should go to court, rejected the application. In September AFELL intends to submit the case to the Jury for the second time.

For Boyenneh, the visit of the international ecumenical delegation of women came at just the right time because AFELL is aiming for international support in its fight against rape. A website on the McVilla case is in preparation; only if McVilla is given a fair chance in a court of law will other women and girls who have been raped dare to break their silence.

Sexual violence against women and girls is only one aspect of AFELL's work. Under the slogan "Equal Rights for All", this association of women lawyers, founded as a non-governmental organization in 1994, works to defend Liberian women's and children's rights in general.

Members of the international ecumenical team:

Hélène Yinda, World YWCA, Geneva (team leader)
Karin Achtelstetter, WCC, Geneva
Jessica Babihuga Nkuuhe, ISIS, Uganda
Lillian Chirombe, World YWCA, Zimbabwe
Ashley Seaman, WCC, Presbyterian Church (USA)

This feature was written during the visit of a five-member international ecumenical delegation of women to Liberia, from 26 July to 2 August, and is one of a series on the West African country. The five women went to Liberia to find out about the situation of women and children in the country after the war. Responding to the needs of their respective members, this solidarity visit was planned and organized by representatives of the World Council of Churches (WCC), the World YWCA, the All Africa Conference of Churches (AACC) and the Lutheran World Federation (LWF).

Photos from Liberia will be available from 21 August at:
PhotoOikoumene or telephone: (+41.22) 791.62.95

Decade to Overcome Violence (2001-2010)

At the Eighth Assembly of the WCC in Harare, Zimbabwe, delegates representing more than 300 WCC member churches brought the Decade to Overcome Violence (DOV) into being. The Assembly declared that on issues of non-violence and reconciliation, the WCC should "work strategically with the churches... to create a culture of non-violence". The Decade, which will be launched world-wide in February 2001, will build on already existing initiatives around the world, and will offer a forum for sharing experiences and establishing relationships so as to learn from one another.

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The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of churches, now 337, in more than 100 countries in all continents from virtually all Christian traditions. The Roman Catholic Church is not a member church but works cooperatively with the WCC. The highest governing body is the assembly, which meets approximately every seven years. The WCC was formally inaugurated in 1948 in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Its staff is headed by general secretary Konrad Raiser from the Evangelical Church in Germany.